Annual Stewardship Awareness Sunday

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Introduction This coming weekend, Sept. 17-18, our archdiocese will observe its fifth annual Stewardship Awareness Sunday.Stewardship Awareness Sunday provides us the occasion to celebrate both the abundant goodness of God to us and our responsibility to share the same good gifts with one another.In parishes throughout the archdiocese, the faithful will be encouraged to think upon the particular ways in which they can live out the Gospel mandate of stewardship.The sacred Scriptures consistently remind us that God has given His abundant good gifts to us as stewards.His gifts, therefore, are not ours to hoard but rather to share with all and for the good of all. Stewardship is about faith. Catholic giving is about the recognition of the source of all our blessings in God and of our need to use God’s many gifts for His glory and the good of all.The theme of this year’s celebration of stewardship is "One Church — Faithful and Generous."It reminds us that stewardship is not just a matter of giving some money to the Church but, rather, a matter of giving of ourselves, including our material goods, in faithful and generous love of all our brothers and sisters in the Church which is one throughout the whole world. Stewardship of time, talent and treasure When we speak about stewardship, we customarily refer to the variety of God’s good gifts to us under three categories, namely, "time, talent and treasure."Sharing the gift of time begins with prayer.Good stewards give time, first of all, to prayer; to devotion to our Lord, our Blessed Mother and the saints; to spiritual reflection; to regular confession; and to participation in Mass on Sunday and more often, if possible.Our Lord Jesus is our model of the good steward; it is He who teaches us the proper destiny of the many gifts with which God has endowed us.We imitate His example by going apart with Him daily, to pray to God the Father and to be united with the Father in Christ. When we give time to grow in our love of Christ through prayer, we see ever more clearly how good and generous God is to us.Prayer opens our eyes to see the hand of God in every aspect of our lives. The union of our hearts with the Heart of Jesus who never ceases to pour out His life for love of us leads us to open our hearts in generous love of others, giving freely and gladly of our time for the sake of others. We share our talent when we permit ourselves to be involved in the lives of others, of our parish and of the wider Church in the archdiocese and throughout the world.Each of us has natural gifts and skills which we have developed. Good stewardship means putting our gifts and skills at the service of others, whether it is visiting the sick or working on parish landscaping or the whole host of activities by which we care for each other and for our whole community.When each parishioner, as a good steward, places his or her talents and skills at the service of the whole parish, the mission of Christ is carried out in a remarkable way. Sharing our treasure means that we place our material goods at the service of Christ and His Church.If we are to have the personnel needed in our parish and in the wider Church, and the facilities which make possible the apostolic work of our parish and of the wider Church, then each of us must share from his or her substance for the good of all.The sharing of our material goods provides salaries and benefits for our priests and parish staff, maintains our parish facilities in a fitting condition for the important works which they serve and supports the material needs of the universal Church.Once we understand and cultivate our union with Christ in carrying out His saving mission, then we unite our material goods to our prayer and our sharing of talents and skills. The Church is God’s gift A Christian steward recognizes that absolutely everything we have is a gift from God.Our health, our education, our work, our home, our investments, our family, our very life, all that we are and have is God’s gift to us. Our life in the Church is God’s greatest gift to us.When Jesus returned to the Father in glory, He entrusted the Church into our care, so that He might remain with us always.In the Church, we are all one body with Christ.We are the Mystical Body of Christ.Our parish church, our cathedral basilica and the Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican symbolize the gift of our oneness in Christ.We gather in our parish church and in our cathedral as members of the one Body of Christ; the church building reminds us that we all make up the Church, we are all individual stones united to Christ, the capstone, to form the Church (cf. Ephesians 2:20).The church building is indeed our second home, for we all belong to each other and are committed to each other in Christlike love. The Church does not exist to serve us, but we are called to serve the Lord and one another in the Church.In the Church, Christ provides us the teaching, the grace and the discipline we require to carry out His work in the world. The universal Church is divided into dioceses, and dioceses are divided into parishes, in order that Christ’s teaching, His sacraments and His pastoral direction may reach us all in our homes.We remain, however, one Body of Christ throughout the whole world, and our service to the Church in our parish must, by definition, also be service of the wider Church in the archdiocese and throughout the world.St. Paul reminded us of our commitment to all our brothers and sisters, without boundary, when he wrote: "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ.For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jew or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit ...If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 26). So it is that, in the present time, we have been suffering with our brothers and sisters affected by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and, in December of 2004, we suffered with our brothers and sisters affected by the tsunami in India and Sri Lanka. Belonging to the one Body At our baptism, we were all made members of the Church, the one Body of Christ.During the Rite of Baptism, the crown of the head is anointed with Sacred Chrism as these words are pronounced: "As Christ was anointed prophet, priest and king, so may you always live as a member of His household" (Rituale Romanum, "Ordo Baptismi Parvulorum," Aug. 29, 1973, n. 98).We are brought to the parish church for baptism, for it symbolizes our oneness with Christ and, in Christ, with all the baptized.With the baptized throughout the world, we form the one household of Christ. Being members of Christ’s Body, the Church, is full engagement in the mission of Christ.Christ lives within us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our souls, and the Holy Spirit inspires in us every work for the good of all in the Church and in the world.St. Peter, reflecting upon the grace of the Holy Spirit in each member of the Church, exhorted us: "As each one has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 4:10-11). To the degree that we are obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we become more Christlike and, therefore, more generous in giving of ourselves and of our goods in service to others.God is glorified in our becoming more like Christ. Every member of the one Body of Christ has gifts to share.The first gift we share is our faith and its expression in prayer and sacrifice.We also have various other gifts to share.Perhaps it is teaching or singing or planning or organizing or building or repairing or listening or caring or cleaning or writing or keeping books and records.The list of talents and skills is almost endless. As good and faithful stewards, we care deeply about the Body of Christ.We engage ourselves in building up the Church by employing whatever gifts God has given us for her sake.We unite ourselves to Christ in His Eucharistic Sacrifice and live out our communion with Christ in prayer and work on behalf of our parish, the archdiocese and the universal Church. Making our commitment Being actively engaged in the Church is not a simple matter in our time.We live in a culture which is thoroughly materialistic, leading us to become ever more involved in a whole variety of activities which may be good in themselves but which in the end make our lives so busy that there is little or no time to reflect and pray.The materialism leads to consumerism, convincing us that we never have enough of the world’s goods and that the goods which we have are not good enough.We work longer and longer hours to acquire more and better things, and, in the end, we are not satisfied.We are left interiorly empty and isolated from one another.So it is that we live in a society which has never enjoyed more material goods but which, at the same time, fails to feed the hungry and to give shelter to the homeless. To commit ourselves to a life of good stewardship, we must first make time to be silent before God and to reflect upon His manifold blessings.We then will understand the truth about the goods of our world and employ them in such a way to serve our own good and the good of all.We will then understand that the poor and the needy are part of the one household of faith and that God has equipped us to care for them as true brothers and sisters. Certainly, the commitment would be too great for any one individual, but we make the commitment with the host of those reborn in Christ through Baptism.Together in the Church and with the help of God’s grace, we are able to accomplish great miracles of care and love on behalf of our brothers and sisters in most need.At the same time, we are able to provide for the life of the Church, which leads us to a deeper knowledge of Christ and a more ardent love of Him. In the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, we read about the early Church and about how all the members of the Church "had all things in common" (Acts 2:44).In the very first years of the Church, St. Paul conducted a collection among all of the particular churches on behalf of the Church at Jerusalem, whose members were in great need (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; and 2 Corinthians 9:1-14).Regarding the nature of the collection, as an expression of stewardship, St. Paul reminded the Christians at Corinth: "The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:6-9). When we sacrifice from our substance to supply for the needs of the whole Church, we are confident that God will supply all that we need.To those who sacrifice generously God provides generously, so that they can provide ever more completely for the needs of the one Body of Christ. Throughout the history of the Church, the Church in one part of the world has provided for the needs of the Church in another part of the world, in which she was struggling for whatever reason.During the first decades of the life of the Church in our nation, the charity of the Church in France, Germany and Italy, for example, provided essential goods, in order that parish churches could be built, the priests and religious sisters could have the necessary sustenance, and the most needy could have essential social benefits. In the last period, too, the Church in various parts of the world, including our own, has been taking up a collection each year to help the Church in Eastern Europe, which had suffered so much under the regime of atheistic communism, to rebuild its necessary churches, schools and institutions for the care of the sick and the needy. Stewardship is indeed a way of life for the whole Church and, therefore, for her individual members.It is through stewardship that we permit Christ to act through us in pouring out His life for the salvation of all mankind.Christ dwelling within us and acting through us as good stewards brings us deep and abiding joy and peace. Conclusion In conclusion, I urge each member of the faithful in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to open his or her heart to the Word of God and so to become ever more faithful and generous stewards of God’s manifold gifts entrusted into your hands.Let stewardship become the way of your life so that, following Christ ever more faithfully, you will give yourself ever more generously to His mission.I recall the words of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Pastoral Letter "Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response": "Following Jesus is the work of a lifetime. At every step forward, one is challenged to go further in accepting and loving God’s will.Being a disciple is not just something else to do, alongside many other things suitable for Christians; it is a total way of life and requires continuing conversion" (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, Dec. 21, 1992, p. 14). Stewardship is not just a matter of an annual weekend event in the Church.It is a way of life by which we give of ourselves and our goods daily to do God’s will and to serve our neighbor.We are all indeed "One Church — Faithful and Generous." Please take time this weekend to reflect upon your way of stewardship to be sure it is totally Christ’s way.This weekend and in the time to come reflect upon your stewardship of God’s gifts before Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament.Through your participation in the Holy Mass and your prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, you will find the inspiration and the strength to be a good steward of God’s gifts to you.Please reflect upon how you may employ your time, talent and treasure more fully in the service of the whole Church in your parish, in the archdiocese and throughout the world.Be confident that God will accomplish always more with your sacrificial gifts, thus building up the whole Church in unity and love. Finally, I take the occasion of the fifth annual Stewardship Awareness Sunday, to thank you for your good stewardship of God’s gifts to you.To those who truly have been one with Christ, faithful and generous, I express my heartfelt esteem and gratitude.I invite all of the faithful of the archdiocese to become ever more "One Church — Faithful and Generous." I close with the prayer which was developed by our Archdiocesan Stewardship Education Council, which I invite you to pray especially during the coming weekend. Prayer for Faithful and Generous Stewardship Heavenly Father, you have blessed me with abundant gifts. Teach me to be grateful. Help me to trust that You will always give me all that I need. Send your Spirit down upon me to guide me. Give me the wisdom to see what is truly most important in this life. Give me the courage to share my time, talent and treasure where they are most needed. Give me the joy that comes when I serve You and Your people. Help me to follow the call of your Son, Jesus Christ, who tells each of us: "Whoever believes in me will do the work that I do" (John 20:21). Help me to be faithful to your Church and generous with your gifts. Show me the way to unite my humble offerings with others in this community so that together in the one Church we may accomplish wonderful work for your kingdom. I ask this in endless gratitude for all the blessings that you have bestowed upon me. Amen.

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